ATV users fear ride’s over with new travel plan

Less than a mile out on a dirt road west of De Beque, most signs of civilization fall away, opening up miles of unobstructed views. Adobe hills dot the landscape, and sandstone formations create curious hourglass pinnacles.

It’s here where De Beque Mayor Dale Rickstrew and about 20 folks from a local all-terrain riding club recently rode toward the popular Coon Hollow area, a beloved spot where they believe their access may be limited in the future.

In the Bureau of Land Management’s Grand Junction field office, 444,347 acres are open to off-road users of the total 1.2 million acres. How the lands are managed by the government, or the Resource Management Plan created in 1987, by law, must be renewed. But it’s the Travel Management Plan, one portion of the overall Resource Management Plan, that has some off-highway-vehicle users worried they may be denied access to their favorite places in the future.

“We’re trying to prevent that from happening because it’s public land, and we want to make sure it stays open to the public,” Rickstrew said. “I think if some of the area is closed, we’re going to make sure it’s for a good reason.”

Already members in the 200-strong Western Slope ATV Association and members of similar OHV groups stick to trails, pack out thousands of pounds of trash each year left on public lands, and work with the BLM to create sustainable trails and promote conservation efforts.

But in the tiny town of De Beque, ATVs likely rule as the most popular form of transportation. By town ordinance, people can ride the vehicles on city streets, a practice that brings retirees, farmers and ranchers into town to pick up mail and socialize. Areas outside of town, largely undiscovered by mountain bikers and hikers, have become havens for ATV users.

Because users are not required to stay on trails in areas considered open, though, the impacts are starting to show.

“That’s what ATVs don’t want to see,” Rickstrew said, scowling and bringing his rumbling machine to a halt during the ride. He pointed to telltale ATV tracks etched into a nearby hill. At another point, riders steered around an impromptu fire pit littered with some charred beer cans — a popular partying site among riders that older locals are accustomed to cleaning up.

In general, ATV users in most local riding groups know that litter and the proliferation of trails in limited-use areas doesn’t bode well for their cause, so they work to provide education, often to younger or inexperienced users.

ATV users argue that because their machines can travel upwards of 30 mph and cover dozens of miles in a day, more, not fewer lands should be opened to them. And, considering that a growing number of ATV riders visit the Grand Junction area, more area in which to ride will reduce the impacts to any certain place.

Besides, what’s the point of the BLM closing areas to ATV use in remote areas such as De Beque when some ATV users are bound to ride where they want to anyway, they argue.

“You’ll just find the closed signs in their rooms,” said one member of the ATV group.

Historically there has been one BLM enforcement officer to cover the more than 1 million acres of the BLM’s Grand Junction filed office. Now the Division of Wildlife and the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department can assist in enforcement on public lands.

Any decisions on the Travel Management Plan are probably a couple of years off and have been and will continue to be an effort among representatives of all kinds of users and public input, said Matt Anderson, outdoor recreation planner for the BLM.

A preliminary draft map of Alternative C, which shows limited-use designations in the Coon Hollow area and swaths of public land north of Grand Junction and Fruita, has worried ATV users like Rickstrew. After collecting public comment and conducting environmental impact reports, the BLM creates a set of alternatives or separate management scenarios to use as guides in implementing a plan.

Anderson said the map was created as a possibility of what one of the alternatives may “shake out to be,” but the alternatives are nowhere near being finalized.

Public comments so far have indicated OHV users want more access to routes on public lands during the spring and summer, and they want more long routes that loop, instead of going out and back, Anderson said.

There’s no doubt a Travel Management Plan will change designations on some public lands from open to designated-use trails and address whether new routes should be opened.

This year, 250,000 users accessed the approximately 12,000 open acres in the North Fruita desert, Anderson said.

While the Grand Junction field office area is popular with locals, the area has long been catching on with visitors. A new Travel Management Plan should provide some sort of balance between OHV users, hikers, bikers and horseback riders, among other uses, Anderson said.

“At some point I don’t think you can say the impact is dispersed nicely across the landscape,” he said, referring to the high traffic use in the North Fruita desert. “I can tell you open areas in the BLM are almost obsolete anymore (outside of Grand Junction’s field office). We have such a unique user group. We want to provide that experience, but we also want to provide some ecological integrity.”

ATV use shows no signs of slowing around the region and in Colorado. As of last year, 131,162 ATVs were registered in the state, according to Colorado State Parks.

The BLM had opened the process to public comments much more so than was required by law. Although the comment period is closed on the Travel Management Plan, those comments should become available on the BLM’s Web site.

“There should be something in there that everyone’s going to like and everyone’s going to hate,” Anderson said of the final product.

For more information on the Resource Management Plan and the Travel Management Plan visit the BLM’s Web site at http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/gjfo/rmp.html.


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